IMPORTANT NEW NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 162: Breaking the Pattern
Last night was a difficult one for me. The phone call with Andie was so scary.
If you look at your life and at your relationships you'll often see patterns as to how the relationships end. There are usually certain conversations that are just too hard to tackle, no matter how many times we try. Those are the times our brains short circuit. We just can't deal anymore. We give up. We throw in the towel. And we are left to start over again, doomed to get only as far as the last time and then repeat the cycle ad infinitum.
Is there any way out of this cycle? Yes. But, only if you are aware of the existence of the cycle. Someone very wise once told me that a lawnmower doesn't know it's a lawnmower. It just cuts grass, oblivious to everything. It is unaware of its own patterns. Unlike the lawnmower, we humans have a capacity for consciousness. We can observe our machinations—if we know how to do so. If we pursue self awareness we can step back and see what kind of machine we are and what sorts of cycles we are repeating.
Does this mean that we will stop doing stupid things? No. No way. Never. But, we can get faster and faster at recognizing when we are in our cycles. And, at those moments we have the potential to break the cycle.
But these moments can be scary and overwhelming. We often are too upset to be calm and step outside of our afflictive emotions such as fear, insecurity, or anger. That's why we only get as far as this one point in relationships and then they break every time. We're fine up to that point, but once we get there our ability to see the situation clearly is completely masked by our weak moment. We are deer in the headlights of this moment. And we either run away or get hit by the approaching car.
Last night I found myself paralyzed in the headlights of a conversation I'd been in many times before. Andie was angry at me for posting an entry about a time when I was upset and hurt by some things she did. Her anger poured through the phone into my ear. I sat on the floor in the hallway clutching my knees. I listened to her but could contribute nothing to the conversation. I was scared and confused. I felt so confident before I was on the phone with her. But, once I heard how angry she was I could say nothing to support my case, nothing to defend my point, and nothing to get a better understanding of why she felt the way she did.
I was terrified. I almost just told her that I didn't know what to do or say and that maybe we just couldn't be friends anymore. I almost gave up.
I'd experienced this paralyzed, helpless moment many times before. It was the moment that ended friendships and girlfriend relationships for me since I was 15. But, this time was different.
It was different because I looked at my posture and heard the silence that came from my mute, useless lips. I recognized where I was. All of a sudden I was no longer the lawnmower, the ignorant machine. At that moment I was truly human.
I paused and thought. I must begin with the end in mind. So, what is my intention here? How do I want to be relating to Andie in five years? I wasn't sure, exactly. But, I did know that I wanted to relate to her in the best possible way. And I wanted her to feel understood. And I wanted her to know that our relationship is important to me. So, after a long silence, I told her just that.
And, once you set the goal state for your life, your conversational footsteps follow this logical path. Everything I said from that point on in the conversation led towards my intention.
She was furious with me. I remembered that I wanted to know why. If I didn't take the time to understand and listen to her, our friendship would have probably ended that night. So, I asked her to explain until I understood—or, until she felt like I understood. And, after that I did my best to tell her why I did what I did.
She thought I was angry—and that I was acting out this anger. She felt like me exposing this account from our lives online was underhanded and cruel—an attempt to make her look bad in public. She felt it was passive–aggressive and unfair. I cowered with each word. This was the most upset I could remember her being at me. I was so scared—almost to the point of inaction. But, I remembered that I had to be brave if I wanted to break my old patterns.
I thought that things were all good between her and I when I posted that entry. I would never have posted it if I thought our friendship was still suffering from said incident. At that point I really believed that it was all water under the bridge.
But, without knowing that, how could she not see it as an attack? As I listened to her I started to really understand the issue here—miscommunication. And, in the light of her perception of the situation, her reaction seemed quite reasonable.
Even after understanding where I was coming from, she raised important questions: Should I ever post this sort of information online, in a book, or in a magazine? Did I fairly represent both sides of the story? As a writer, am I obligated to represent both sides?
The answer was no, I shouldn't have to do anything. But, I could see that if I wanted to remain a friend in good standing with her I would need to consider these things—and maybe change certain behaviors. This was not a demand she imposed on me, but rather an obvious tradeoff—just like we trade our daytimes for jobs, money for drinks, or tax dollars for libraries and Armies. If you want the payoff, you must make concessions and be willing to let go of certain things.
Minutes melted by. My fear and old patterns melted away with the minutes. And, my posture echoed this. Through the conversation I went from fetal position to knees clenched against my chest to sitting up to standing and even sort of smiling.
We both talked until we had nothing else to say—which wasn't much longer. We'd already given one another the opportunity to explain everything. We didn't agree with each other on each point. But, we both felt like the other person truly understood why we acted the ways we did. And, we both felt like we understood one another. Most importantly, we worked through something big and scary in order to achieve a greater goal—to do the right thing and be good to each other, especially when it was the hardest.
So we hung up. I couldn't believe it. I finally beat the big boss—I didn't give up. My old pattern was defeated—at least for that episode. I felt drained; I felt proud. I climbed the mountain that had stood between me and my relationships for so many years. Not very surprisingly, things didn't look nearly so intimidating from the peak. The pounding in my heart subsided, and I began my descent to the other side—the winding down of the conversation, the foundation for conversations to come.
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